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The Contest Day 1 Lunch: Eater Editors Destroy Cheap-o Pizza, Buddhist Noodles, Banh Mi Sandwiches, and Dumplings

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Here's what Team Eater consumed for lunch during the cheap eats spectacle known as #thecontest.

[Banh Mi Saigon tofu sandwich by Sonia Chopra]
[Banh Mi Saigon tofu sandwich by Sonia Chopra]

All 10 Eater editors are still playing The Contest — but how long will everyone last? Most of the participants are now working with $5 for dinner or less. Everyone's budgets shoot back up to $10 at the stroke of midnight for day two, but the change from day one does not cary over. It's like Groundhog Day or that Tom Cruise movie with the robot suits: Every day of the contest, you get a fresh start, and a new opportunity to win or lose the ultimate battle.

Here's how the editors fared for lunch on day one. Stay tuned for a dinner update tomorrow morning. And if you're playing along at home, please share any of your meals in the forums, or on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #thecontest. We'll share our favorite pics and tips.

Lunch on Monday, July 13:

Player: Robert Sietsema

Order/Strategy: As you might imagine, I was intrigued by the name of the dish when I strolled into the Fujianese bakery near the corner of East Broadway and Essex called Happy Star. The menu board said "Rice Noodle w/Buddhist," making me think there might be an element of cannibalism in play. But as the attendant pulled out the shallow metal drawer in the steam cabinet, poured in the rice noodle batter, and then arranged a fistful of shredded carrots, baby corn, and several kinds of mushrooms on top, I realized that this was a vegetarian concoction only aimed at Buddhists. Need I say it was delicious? And two servings -- the other one featuring ham instead of vegetables -- set me back only $3.75, leaving $4.50 for a belt-besting dinner.


Player: Jarret Meskin

Purchase: 2 plain slices: $2

Strategy: It's pizza time! For lunch, I headed over to Mamani Pizza on Avenue A between 9th and 10th. I tried to pick a dollar-slice spot as far from my apartment (within reason) as possible, as I imagine my enthusiasm for pizza will soon begin to wane. Fortunately, these were some decent slices. I'd say Mamani's crust is a top three contender in the dollar-slice category. It was much thicker than I anticipated, which should keep me satisfied for longer. It's also worth noting that they sell $1 empanadas.

Slice count: 2

Mamani Pizza | 151 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009 | (212) 388-1715


Player: Sonia Chopra

Purchase: Vegan banh mi: $4.75. Remainder: $3.30.

Strategy: A friend of mine who works nearby told me about another "cheap" banh mi place in Chinatown that turned out to be not so cheap! So I did some digging last week and came up with this place, which has a vegan banh mi under $5. On the phone they told me there would be no tofu, but mine has something that looks pretty close. I'm into the banh mi in particular because 1) it has two huge, filling halves, so I can save one for later, and 2) it came with a little side of chili sauce that could come in handy down the line. Y'all can see that I couldn't wait to take the picture before I had a couple bites — this week is going to be tough.

Oh, and couple notes on my strategy for the week: I'm trying to stay vegetarian and only hit each type of cuisine once.

Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich. 369 Broome Street. (212) 219-8341.


Player: Vince Dixon

Order/Strategy: Continuing with the deli theme I stopped by Zeytinz across the street from Bryant Park and got some hearty vegetable lentil soup for $3.75. Five dollars left!


Player: Devra Ferst

Order/Strategy: My plans for a delicious Sahadi's lunch were thwarted by a much delayed F train, so I popped into a random bagel shop on Smith Street for an egg and cheddar on a roll. $3.50 later I was on my way, proving that there is always an egg 'n cheese near by when you need one in NYC. And I also got a 75 cent mediocre nectarine from the stand across the street.


Player: Hillary Dixler

Location: Golden Fried Dumpling; 192 Duffield St, Brooklyn

Cost: $1.25

Order/Strategy: This is my secret Downtown Brooklyn obsession. For $1.25 you get 5 chive and pork dumplings. Are they the best dumplings in the city? Of course not. They are a quarter each and in a culinary no man's land. But they are very solid, and definitely worth your time. Bonus: You can also buy frozen dumplings to bring home.


Player: Daniela Galarza

daniela poc

Location: 99 Cent Fresh Pizza on 40th Street

Order/Strategy: 2 slices, 2 bucks, 0 regrets


Player: Amanda Kludt

Purchase: 3 bananas

Cost: $1. Remainder: $5.50

Strategy: I had the second half of my breakfast sandwich for lunch, heated up in the microwave. Not glamorous but it got the job done. Then I bought three bananas for a dollar. I'll have one today and save the rest for later.

Mood: Not hungry! Not even remotely. I might have to make this my every day meal strategy


Player: Helen Rosner

Order/Strategy: Hot dog bun! From Cafe Zaiya, $2.25 — it's a who-knows-what-it's-made-from hot dog baked into a super fluffy brioche roll, with ketchup baked on top of it. I'm in the office today so I'm having to fight the insanely inflated prices of Times Square. I didn't know what I'd find in Cafe Zaiya but it turns out it's got a wealth of super-cheap options. A ham sandwich is $3.50, a salmon onigiri is $1.75.


Player: Greg Morabito

Location: Triangolo Pizza; 1017 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn

Price: $2.50

Order/Strategy: Had my second Greenpoint meal of the day today at Triangolo Pizza, a totally unremarkable slice shop near my apartment. The most notable thing about this place is the Steven Seagal Wall. As far as I can tell, this is a sincere tribute to the On Deadly Ground actor. Four pictures of the 'Gal, and none of them were taken inside the pizzeria. Jerry Springer is in one photo.

Triangolo's bland slices are best enjoyed at room temperature, I think. Haven't been hungry all day.

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